17: The Car

17: The Car

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

The Car

The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.

~Joan Didion

I wanted a car. No, I NEEDED a car.

I’d just graduated from college and had moved back into my parents’ home while I looked for gainful employment. I had some nice interview clothes, a new pair of dressy sandals, and a handful of résumés. I was all ready for job-hunting, except for one tiny glitch. I didn’t have a car.

I’d never had a car. My parents had sent me off to school and paid for my education. They paid for my room and board on campus, too. But they didn’t think a car was necessary, and to be honest, it wasn’t. Everywhere I went was in close proximity to my dorm. And if it weren’t, I’d get my boyfriend to give me a ride.

But I could hardly expect my boyfriend to drop everything and drive me all over Georgia to find a job. When I mentioned this fact to my dad, he was not concerned. In fact, he was downright blasé about the matter.

“You can borrow your mother’s car to look for a job,” he said.

“But what if I get a job?” I asked. My mother was a schoolteacher, and her vehicle was available, most of the time, during June, July, and August. But when school started in the fall, not having a car was going to be a problem.

“You can worry about that when you get a job,” he said.

Hmmph. I sulked for a day or two, but my sulk was not having the desired effect on my dad. If you knew my dad, you wouldn’t be surprised. He was not the type of father to just give his kids whatever they wanted. He could have done so. But he was very big on responsibility, which meant that he expected his children to invest their own time and money on important purchases. And a car was tops on his list of “Important Purchases.”

My oldest brother was the only one in the house who’d bought his own car. He’d worked like a dog the summer after he turned nineteen, saved his pennies, and paid for a VW Beetle. My other brothers and I were jealous, of course, but not so jealous that we wanted to work like dogs during our summer vacations.

So there I was, a college graduate, stuck without a car and without a job. And with a dad who refused to budge on my car predicament.

I was ecstatic when I finally got a job at a local radio station. It was only part-time, but it was a job! Now, I’d HAVE to have my own car. It was July, and my mother had no intention of giving up her car every day, even if only for a half-day. So, I pleaded my case before my dad.

“Dad, I need a car.”

“You should start looking for something you can afford,” he said.

Well, that was easier said than done. We lived in a small town; there was one car dealership. No way could I afford a new car. I’d need a used car. And the only way to buy a used car was to know someone who knew someone who’d heard about someone who wanted to sell a car. I didn’t know a soul who fit that description.

Ah, but my dad did. He came home the next day, talking up an Impala that had been owned by an older woman. No joke. The car cost six hundred dollars, and my dad thought we should check it out immediately. A car like that wouldn’t be around for long, he said.

Once I saw the car, I could see why. Not that the car was unsightly. It was in immaculate shape. But I didn’t think too many twenty-two-year-olds were going to jump on this deal. The car was a tank. And it drove like a tank. I’d envisioned myself in a red sports car. Not this dirty-white, “older person” car. I said I’d have to think about it.

The more I thought, the more I figured beggars can’t be choosers. “Let’s buy the car,” I said.

“I’m not buying that car,” replied my father, a look of surprise on his face.

“But, Dad!” Now it was my turn to be surprised. I’d barely worked one week, and hadn’t been paid yet. I didn’t have a cent to my name. Besides, the car was only six hundred dollars. Dad could easily afford that. But he continued to look at me, calm, cool and collected.

“You could buy the car, and I could pay you back,” I said, finally. Maybe after a month or two, Dad would forget all about that arrangement.

“Or you could go to the bank and take out a loan,” he said. Which was Dad’s way of saying, “Get a loan.”

Ooooh, I was so put out with my father! A loan! I was barely out of school a month, and now I’d be in debt! I’d have to pay back that loan, for sure. I refused to speak to Dad on the drive to the bank. I was too busy feeling put out. The injustice of it all!

My father did agree to co-sign for the loan. But he made it very clear that he wouldn’t make the payments if I quit my job. I agreed to the bank’s terms, as well as my father’s. What else could I do? I got the check from the bank and we drove directly to the owner’s house. Easy come, easy go. I drove home in my Impala, fuming and figuring out car payments.

That was years ago, and I’ve had quite a few cars since, some used and some brand-new. But there was something special about that Impala. Not the crummy color, or the way it chugged along, and certainly not the way it ate gas. But I was proud of that car.

No, I was proud that I’d bought that car. I had made every single payment on my own. I’d invested my time in a job and my salary was invested in that car. That was quite an achievement for a twenty-two-year-old who’d never had such an adult responsibility. And when the next summer rolled around and I moved out of my parents’ home to a new job, I was sure I’d manage just fine. After all, I’d bought a car, all by myself. Thanks to Dad.

~Cathy C. Hall

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